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The James Webb infrared space telescope's launch has been delayed again, but that's not too shocking. What leaves me incredulous is it's going to cost 10 billion dollars, or 10.000 million. Take the time to picture one million dollars, a sum comparable to one million pounds or one million euros. Then try to picture ten thousand times that. 

How does ONE satellite get to cost the annual budget of a small country?

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10 bill is pocket change! Russia spent $50billIon on on the 2014 winter Olympics... I'd much rather have 5 JWSTs :)

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Hubble cost $2.8b in 2017 currency. Was it worth it? Hell yes. Will JW be worth it? Hell yes.

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That's about $1.30 per human being, which seems reasonable. ?

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One million cars would cost as much as the James Webb telescope! I'm not questioning the science, I'm asking if the price is justified; seems way out of proportion to me.

I suppose the price for Hubble includes the launch and more than two decades of operation, but the Webb scope is not even completely assembled, let alone launched and operated. So, how do they justify such a monster budget for one machine small enough to be put on top of a rocket?

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18 minutes ago, Ben the Ignorant said:

So, how do they justify such a monster budget for one machine small enough to be put on top of a rocket?

I guess most of the cost is in the man hours... there must be tens of thousands of people working on the JWST and it's supply chain, all getting well paid (probably) and all spending their hard earned cash in shops and cafes and generally helping the economy tick over.

 

Would be good to see a breakdown of costs for the project.

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I hope the JWT will last a while! For the same amount you could build almost 10 ELTs. (Operating costs are €50 million per year for an ELT.)

Imagine ten 40m class telescopes.

 

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I'm afraid the Webb scope is budgeted by the kind of folks who charged $200 for an aspirin tablet in a hospital, and those who billed the taxpayer $435 for a hammer. Read this, and note that the article is dated 1986; in current money the amounts have to be multiplied by about 2.5:

http://articles.latimes.com/1986-07-30/news/vw-18804_1_nut

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1 hour ago, CraigT82 said:

I guess most of the cost is in the man hours... there must be tens of thousands of people working on the JWST and it's supply chain, all getting well paid (probably) and all spending their hard earned cash in shops and cafes and generally helping the economy tick over.

 

Would be good to see a breakdown of costs for the project.

Not tens of thousands, more like a few hundreds. The Webb is not the Large Hadron Collider, it's only one assembly small enough to fit inside a rocket head, and its parts are already built, all they do now is test it, disassemble it, tune it, reassemble it, and test it again.

If the first price limit was reasonable, and I have no reason to doubt that because it was already a gigantic 1 billion fortune, how can the final cost exceed 10 billion? Imagine all the other projects they could have financed with that!

Edited by Ben the Ignorant

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32 minutes ago, Ben the Ignorant said:

Not tens of thousands, more like a few hundreds

Really?  In the entire supply chain? You think there's only a few hundred people involved in the design and manufacture of every single nut and bolt in the whole thing, not to mention all the project managers, HR staff, accountants etc etc...  I don't think so.

37 minutes ago, Ben the Ignorant said:

The Webb is not the Large Hadron Collider

No, but then the LHC doesn't need to go into space.  Incidentally did you know the estimated cost of discovering the Higgs Boson is... you might want to sit down for this one... $13.25billion! I'll expect your thread on the outrageous cost of discovering one measly particle next.

The final cost of the JWST will exceed $8.8 billion certainly but don't forget that's since the project started in 1996. 

The article you linked to about the military overcharging is nothing new.

I for one would rather my taxes pay for scientific instruments than weapons of war.

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4 hours ago, Ruud said:

I hope the JWT will last a while! For the same amount you could build almost 10 ELTs. (Operating costs are €50 million per year for an ELT.)

 

It will not last as long as Hubble. It will go to the second Lagrange point, L2, which is a difficult orbit point to remain in. Eventually it will run out of fuel, but it will carry "at least 10 years supply". Yet, in those 10 years it will fuel a massive array of discoveries, just like Hubble has done. Even better, because it is orbiting in L2, it can collect data 24/7/365 for ten years, unlike Hubble.

Money spent on science is money well spent. And you can't compare cost in one area to another without running into "why don't we use all this on curing cancer?", which leads to the known problem that two women won't make the baby in 4½ months.

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I agree with many of the comments made, not sure where else this thread can go. It’s a lot of cash, certainly, but I doubt any of us are likely to have enough insight into the project to understand where it was spent.

It is not simply a satellite, it is an unbelievably complex and finely tuned machine which has to function perfectly without support a long way from Earth, after being rattled around on top of a very big firework. The fact that it does have to fit into the limited size of the rocket fairing adds plenty more complication in terms of unfolding the heatshield, aligning the mirrors (which themselves are the work of years), and countless other tasks. I’m sure there are also specific communications requirements and a control centre and ground teams to support it.

For me, it is worth every penny. Given the achievements of Hubble, particularly its Ultra Deep field images, can you even begin to imagine what JWT will show??

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2 hours ago, Stu said:

For me, it is worth every penny.

I don't know if you have read the link that I put, but Northrop-Grumman is in the same league as MacDonnel-Douglas which charged $2,403 for one nut, a historal feat highlighted in a book about countless other cases of such madness. The military and aerospace industry in the US have had a free pass for charging whatever they want for decades. Expectedly, this has has led to outrageous fraud, waste and abuse.

A dedicated program against that exact problem, the anti fraud, waste and abuse campaign was launched in the nineties but it targeted small fish only, so the problem lingered on to this day.

Because the Webb will do science we like cannot blind us to the fact that it's fraught with massive overspending. The people who work on it probably live like Saudi princes while the project drags on for a decade. Have you thought how many other projects could have been achieved if this one was not a dollar bills bonfire?

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30 minutes ago, Ben the Ignorant said:

I don't know if you have read the link that I put, but Northrop-Grumman is in the same league as MacDonnel-Douglas which charged $2,403 for one nut, a historal feat highlighted in a book about countless other cases of such madness. The military and aerospace industry in the US have had a free pass for charging whatever they want for decades. Expectedly, this has has led to outrageous fraud, waste and abuse.

A dedicated program against that exact problem, the anti fraud, waste and abuse campaign was launched in the nineties but it targeted small fish only, so the problem lingered on to this day.

Because the Webb will do science we like cannot blind us to the fact that it's fraught with massive overspending. The people who work on it probably live like Saudi princes while the project drags on for a decade. Have you thought how many other projects could have been achieved if this one was not a dollar bills bonfire?

I haven’t read the link but am familiar with wastage caused by processes used to ensure quality within military environments eg having to open a pack of 100 bolts, use one and throw the rest away. Seems crazy, I hope it is done better now. I have worked in corporate environments where the project management structures are highly complex and expensive to run. A smaller company could manage a much leaner team but would not have the size, financial resources and quality mechanisms in place to be able to satisfy the ‘customer’.

I doubt there are people living like Saudi princes, I’m sure that people are paid well to achieve a difficult result in a highly complex situation.

I could be harsh and quote Beagle 2 as an example of a project done on a shoestring. Space X are doing a fabulous job of reducing costs by introducing innovative technology, but don’t forget that they receive billions of dollars in effectively state funding, have had multiple failures before reaching success and have benefited from years of expensively obtained NASA knowledge in order to shortcut to success.

JWT cannot afford to fail, it has to work. I’m sure it could have been done more cheaply but I think people trivialise the complexity of this stuff.

What conclusion are you looking for from this thread? They have spent the money, I just want it to be completed and to be a success. Hopefully lessons will be learned and as Space X etc drive competition and innovation the costs will come down for space activities in future.

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I'm sure all of us want the JWT to be a succes.

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Yes, salaries are the biggest factor. It wouldn't surprise me if 10,000 workers are involved, including all the ancillary sectors. Multiply that by 40,000 dollars per annum in wages, multiplied by 10 years, and there's 4 billion already accounted for.

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1 hour ago, Stu said:

JWT cannot afford to fail, it has to work.

This. I work in quality assurance on software, which is tolerant of an outrageous amount of failure. If we were working on life critical or fault critical systems like this, we would have to increase time and resources an order of magnitude, if not 2.

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41 minutes ago, Stu said:

What conclusion are you looking for from this thread?

I don't decide what the conclusion in a discussion will be, I'm just shocked that something that was supposed to cost 1 bil will cost 10 bil, and that the extra resources are lost for other projects which could have been made in time for a reasonable cost.

In the late eighties and up to the early nineties the European Space Agency said they intended to launch a european space shuttle that would be called Hermes. It was supposed to ride on top of an Ariane rocket, and return as a space plane/glider, like the american shuttle. They talked about it, science magazines propped it, nice inspiring posters of it were painted and displayed here and there, but it was never built, and after spending 12 billion deutsch marks (6 billion euros, right?) just thinking about it, they dropped the idea.

First, how did they spend 6 billion on something that was not even constructed, and second, why start a project that was not realistic to begin with, since feasability is the first criteria to judge?

The Webb is different in that it is feasable, since it is constructed, but the bloated cost reminds dangerously of the Hermes fiasco, or the Soviet Buran shuttle that was fabricated only to be left to corrode in a hangar. If delay and spending worsen again, Webb will be abandoned, too; that's what I fear.

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7 hours ago, Ben the Ignorant said:

I don't decide what the conclusion in a discussion will be

That’s not what I said, I asked what conclusion you were looking for as you are driving the debate in a certain direction.

7 hours ago, Ben the Ignorant said:

If delay and spending worsen again, Webb will be abandoned, too; that's what I fear.

I do share that fear. I hope that the investment to date is such that any incremental cost caused by delays is justifiable.

I’m not sure that you grasp just how complex these projects are. When it costs a billion pounds to build a stadium in London which is basically a known problem (ie we know how to build stadia), it doesn’t seem such a leap for it to cost ten times that to achieve something off this planet, developing technology that has never been tried before, and making it work first time. There is a huge cost in the design, project management, integration, risk mitigation and testing I imagine.

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It's a huge amount but I'd rather see it spent on James Webb than the latest armageddon "defense" project ( yes I do realise weapons research drives technology) 

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I worked in Aerospace and the employee costings were around £100 per hour so it soon mounts up, what does surprise me is that they didn't make and plan to launch more than one it might not have cost much more if any..

Alan

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7 minutes ago, Alien 13 said:

I worked in Aerospace and the employee costings were around £100 per hour so it soon mounts up, what does surprise me is that they didn't make and plan to launch more than one it might not have cost much more if any..

Alan

Well, it would cost an extra Atlas V launch? and there is only one L2 spot, they can't share it.

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1 hour ago, Datalord said:

there is only one L2 spot, they can't share it.

Fortunately we can share the L2 point. It is (will be) the home of Herschel, Planck, Eddington, Gaia, the James Webb Space Telescope and Darwin.

L2 is an unstable equilibrium point. The satellites near it regularly have to steer back to the 'zone of balance'. They can  do so at lazy speeds.

Edited by Ruud
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Ben asks a fair question and a really difficult one . What would 10 billion do in the fight to eradicate say Malaria or similar that plague the third world. Could it be done for that: how much did it cost WHO to eradicate polio? If it could with a high degree of success, then I reckon that would be better payback.  I'm all for advancing our understanding of the cosmos and I will be as excited as an excited thing when the JWT goes operational. I can't help think we have other priorities though; our world needs attention at the moment.

Jim

Edited by saac

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